Back in September 2016, Cheryl Adams was in a real bind.
Due to delayed maintenance and then the shaking from the August 2014 earthquake, this senior citizen’s Napa home needed repairs. But living primarily on Social Security, Adams had no extra funds to pay for renovations.
With her mortgage eating up more than half of her monthly income, money was extremely tight.
The situation hadn’t always been so dire. Adams once shared the house with her husband and son. All three were working.
But in 2009, her husband passed away. Her son was laid off work for a time. Adams herself struggled with health problems.
Meanwhile, her house was slowly deteriorating around her.
Built in the 1950s, the home’s single bathroom needed repairs. After the 2014 quake, one exterior brick wall was especially precarious. Doors and windows didn’t close properly. Adams was worried the home’s foundation and overall structure was damaged.
She fell behind in her mortgage payments.
“I was really close to foreclosure. We had used all of our savings,” she said. “We were almost out the door.”
After being profiled in a September 2016 story in the Napa Valley Register, members of Adams’ church – Grace Church of Napa Valley — stepped forward.
During a work day, volunteers descended as a group and completed the most urgent repairs, she said. The damaged brick wall was removed. Some doors and windows were replaced.
Now that a certain number of years have passed since a bankruptcy filing, her credit score is back up – to 750, she said proudly. “All my house payments are on time,” she said.
She recently applied for and received store credit such as a Kohl’s card. “Just to establish some credit — not to start charging up again,” she said.
Even more significantly, Adams also received a temporary reduction in her mortgage. At one point, it was as high as $1,438 a month. Today, the payment is down to $840.
That decrease gave her some breathing room.
“It’s a huge step forward,” she said.
However, Adams, 68, isn’t out of the woods yet.
The mortgage payment reduction is good only for the next two to four years, she said.
“It’s a not a fixed solution. I’m going to have to fight all over again” when the modification ends.
Other opportunities haven’t always worked out.
After the Register story about her, Adams said a social services worker came to visit her and share information about other resources.
Adams appreciated the advice, but ultimately, she wasn’t sure what programs she could take advantage of or be eligible for.
She said she tried to visit a food bank in Napa but was rebuffed. Something about forms or registration, she said. It was confusing, said Adams. She didn’t go back.
A Napa Valley Community Housing program called the Home Sharing Match-Up Program that pairs seniors with extra space in their homes with those who want to rent a room isn’t a good fit, she said. Her one bathroom is too run down. Her extra bedroom needs renovating.
“It would need paint, a bed,” she said. The house is too small. “It would be uncomfortable” for the tenant or for herself and her son, she said.
Adams said that after the 2016 Napa Valley Register story ran, “I was kind of embarrassed by it.”
She said she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her. She didn’t do the interview to get sympathy or handouts.
But at the time, “I was really suffering.”
Today, Adams continues to face obstacles.
“I have zero savings,” she said.
Last week, she had to pay a plumber $300 to fix her toilet. Recently, she had two teeth pulled because she couldn’t afford to do necessary dental work.
“They were back teeth,” she said. “Nothing I absolutely had to have.” Having the problem teeth removed “is cheaper than to try and get them fixed,” she said.
In the coming weeks, Adams needs to have shoulder surgery. She’s covered by Medicare and uses Kaiser medical services, but that surgery is another hurdle to overcome.
While her church came to her rescue when she needed them the most, Adams knows she can’t depend solely on such help.
“They’re not there to give money away. They can get you on your feet but then you’ve got to learn how to walk.”
Regardless of the obstacles, Adams remains determined to stay in her home.
“You just have to be thankful. Life moves on. It’s not going to be ‘easy time’ for anybody.”
She has her house “and that’s the most important thing.”
Their mugshots are shared time and again on social media, but what are the people on Napa Valley’s Most Wanted list wanted for?
These fugitives are wanted for everything from insurance fraud to sexual assault, molestation, and murder. The list, which is run by the nonprofit group Napa Valley Crime Stoppers and the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, has about 150 suspects on it, the most recent being 34-year-old Daniel Gary Coles.
The list was updated last Thursday to include Coles, who is wanted on suspicion of a probation violation, according to the Napa Valley Crime Stoppers website.
Felony probation violations are common on the list, Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Dameron said last week.
The most serious charge and one of the oldest cases on the list is related to the 2004 murder Leoncio Joel Pimienta, 50, of St. Helena. Although an arrest warrant was issued for the suspected murderer, Nicolas Villalobos-Olivera, 44, shortly after the killing, he is still at large. An amended warrant was issued for Villalobos-Olivera in 2011.
Pimienta, who had dated and, at one time, lived with Villalobos-Olivera’s mother, was shot seven times with a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun at 3:38 p.m. July 22, 2004 on the corner of Pope and Edwards streets, according to court records. Pimienta was shot several times, fell to his knees and, after he fell over, the suspect continued to shoot him. The suspect fled, and Pimienta was declared dead at the scene.
Investigators previously stated that Villalobos-Olivera may have fled to Mexico.
He is wanted on suspicion of murder in addition to special allegations that he caused the victim great bodily injury, personally and intentionally discharged a firearm causing injury and death, and that he killed the victim by means lying in wait.
If arrested and convicted of all the allegations, he would face life in prison without parole, according to court records.
Other alleged crimes are less severe.
Stephen Edward Crawford, 33, of Sanford, for example, has been on the most wanted list since July for alleged insurance fraud. According to court records, Crawford was involved in a two-vehicle wreck along Highway 29 near Castello di Amorosa on Oct. 9, 2015.
Not even an hour later, Crawford, who was presumably uninsured, purchased a policy with Esurance, telling the company that he hadn’t been in a wreck within the last five years. When the owner of the second vehicle, Hertz, sent Esurance the claim estimate – $15,687.47 – the company said they weren’t covering it because the policy wasn’t active yet.
More than half of the suspects on the list have been identified as “Hispanic” or have Hispanic/Latino surnames.
Law enforcement doesn’t necessarily believe that more Hispanic-identifying people are committing crimes, but that they may be more inclined to flee the area as they have ties to Mexico and other countries.
Octavio Guadalupe Ramirez, 24, of Napa, wanted on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14, has been on the list since Feb. 2, 2017. A female adolescent told deputies that she and Ramirez had kissed a few times before he took her back to his place to have sex, according to court documents. The girl said that she didn’t know that was his intention and that she was uncomfortable. Ramirez was 22 at the time.
Sheriff’s deputies tried to contact Ramirez, but believe that he fled to Mexico after the incident, according to court documents.
“In my personal experience, it seems like people do leave the area,” Dameron said. “Some stay local and some reside in other jurisdictions. Some leave the area when they suspect they have a warrant.”
Some suspects, he said, monitor the Napa Valley Crime Stoppers Facebook page. Some of them even comment, he said.
Dameron said that some people may not even know they’re on the most-wanted list. If they missed a court date, they probably realize a bench warrant has been issued. But if a case was just filed with the Napa County District Attorney’s Office, they might not know yet.
There are individuals who, when they see they’re on the list, come down and take care of the warrant. They don’t want their mugshot to be on social media, he said.
So, how does someone make it on the most-wanted list, which was created in 2010? Dameron said that they must be wanted on a felony warrant and cannot have been posted on the list in the current or previous year.
For example, he said, a person who has active felony warrants about 15 times every year can only be posted one time in a two-year period. So, if he was posted last in 2016, he would be eligible for 2018.
In the last few years, Napa Valley Crime Stoppers has started to change what they post, said Michael Honig, current president of the board of directors. Since Proposition 47 passed in 2014 reducing many felonies to misdemeanors, he said, there have been fewer postings by Napa Valley Crime Stoppers because they don’t post mugshots for people wanted on misdemeanor charges.
Now, he said, in addition to posting the most-wanted list, Napa Valley Crime Stoppers also shares information about specific cases, seeking information and identification. For example, he said, they recently posted an image taken from surveillance footage related to identity theft and fraudulent use of a stolen credit card, asking people to help identify the pictured suspects.
The “new model” is to focus on a couple of cases, he said, especially those that are big issues in the area like mail and identity theft.
Napa Valley Crime Stoppers encourages people to make anonymous tips by using money as an incentive and offers up to $1,000 if the tip leads to an arrest.
“We had 64 tips in basically a 12-month period (and) four were paid out,” Honig said. Many times, he said, once a tip is made, the wanted person rushes over to clear their warrants. Or, he said, there are people who either decline the money or never show up to pick up their payout.
The total payout amount between March 2017 and March 2018 was $550. The year before, there were four rewards paid out, totaling $450, officials said.
“The benefit of the system is (that) it’s really, really low cost,” Honig said. Not only are suspects apprehended, he said, but it also allows the community to participate in those apprehensions.
This story was originally posted with a composite of four mugshots taken from Napa Valley Crime Stoppers' “Most Wanted” list. One of the four, Justine Denise Lindsey, should not have been on that list. Lindsey has complied with Napa County Superior Court requirements, according to court records.
Napa County supervisors discussed why they and not voters should pass an initiative allowing Blakeley Construction to remain on agriculturally zoned land near Calistoga.
Blakeley supporters gathered enough signatures to qualify their initiative for the ballot under Measure P. Measure P and its predecessor, Measure J, protect agriculture from development by putting most land-use changes involving farmland in the hands of voters.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday followed through on its previously announced intent to adopt the Blakeley-supported initiative by a 3-2 vote, rather than place it on the ballot.
All 15 previous Measure J and Measure P proposals – from the Stanly Lane pumpkin patch to the Soscol Creek housing development—went to the ballot. Since 1990, voters have passed seven proposals and rejected eight.
Can supervisors take a Measure J/P decision out of voters’ hands? Measure J says that certain agricultural land use policies “shall not be amended unless such amendment is approved by vote of the people.”
But state election law requires a board of supervisors presented with a qualifying citizen-driven initiative to either adopt it as written or place it on the ballot. County staff stuck with the state law.
“We don’t believe the electorate could nullify or curtail or limit those choices,” Deputy County Counsel Silva Darbinian told supervisors.
Nor is that a new county position. A 2007 agenda for a Stanly Lane deli initiative gave supervisors the same choice of adopting or placing on the ballot.
Attorney Paul Carey of Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty said the Board of Supervisors was depriving citizens of the right to vote under Measures J and P.
“This is an issue that will eventually be decided by the courts,” he said.
Supervisors wrestled with another question. They accepted they had the right to adopt the Blakeley-supported initiative, then asked whether they should set a precedent by doing so.
Warren Winiarski, who founded Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and supported the formation of the agricultural preserve in 1968, asked supervisors to place the measure on the ballot. He called citizens the “guardians” of agricultural land use changes.
“The benefits sought by the Blakeley initiative should be gained not by three votes on any Tuesday, but by the citizens of the county who will be affected by this initiative,” Winiarski said.
That remark referred to one of the rationales for Measures J and P. Supporters have long said the measures exist to stop the Board of Supervisors from changing agricultural designations on any given Tuesday.
Winiarski pointed out that the initiative doesn’t refer to Blakeley Construction by name, but would allow paving businesses established before 1968 to be on agricultural watershed land within a mile of a city. County staff has heard anecdotally that there may be other such businesses operating improperly that might meet the same criteria.
Others urged the Board to follow through and adopt the Blakeley initiative. Some said that the 56-year-old Blakeley business is important to the small-town Calistoga area, yet far from the voter strongholds of Napa and American Canyon that would decide its fate.
“This is a unique matter that does warrant exceptional consideration from the Board,” Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said.
Eve Kahn, a south county resident belonging to Get a Grip on Growth, pointed to the Lake Berryessa boat storage expansion that passed under Measure J in 2002. Lake Berryessa is more remote than Calistoga, she said.
Supervisor Diane Dillon, who represents the 3rd supervisorial district that includes Calistoga, voted to adopt the Blakeley initiative rather than go to the ballot. She worked to pass Measure J in 1990.
Dillon pointed to an advertisement that Measure J proponents ran in 1990. It promised the measure would allow voters to decide if agricultural land should be rezoned for housing, industry or shopping centers.
“That’s not what’s being proposed here,” Dillon said, given Blakeley Construction has existed on agricultural land since 1962.
Nor did she see the decision as a sea change in county policy that in the past dictated placing Measures P/J initiatives on the ballot. It took almost 30 years for an exception to arise, Dillon said.
“Adopting this particular initiative as an ordinance means there’s an extraordinarily high bar for any initiative this board may adopt in the future,” Dillon said.
Supervisor Ryan Gregory, who voted to adopt the Blakeley initiative, said Measures J and P are important to him. But the measures are about proposals for projects people want to do in the future.
“This is a about a business that was there even before the Ag Preserve existed,” Gregory said.
Without Measures J and P, Blakeley Construction could be a legal, noncomforming use in the agricultural watershed, Supervisor Belia Ramos said. She noted supporters had the heavy lift of gathering 3,792 signatures from valid local voters to bring the initiative before supervisors.
“Clearly, they met that burden,” Ramos said.
Supervisors Alfredo Pedroza and Brad Wagenknecht, while saying nothing to oppose Blakeley, wanted the initiative on the ballot.
“It’s more about principle and the vision I have for Napa and making sure there’s a way we do business here,” Pedroza said.
Napa County began zoning in 1955. Blakeley Construction went into business in 1962 at 310 Franz Valley School Road on land zoned for agriculture. Neighbor complaints about the business a couple of years ago led to a county investigation.
The county ruled that Blakeley Construction is in an improper zoning district and also had several structures without building permits. A court settlement called for the Blakeleys to close the business in June of this year.
With the initiative adopted by the Board on Tuesday, Blakeley Construction no longer has to close this June. Ramos and Gregory cast their “aye” votes by phone from Washington, D.C., where they are attending a National Association of Counties conference.